Classic book recommendations for young children
When I was a young girl, a few classic children’s books were so engaging they felt real to me.
I remember opening up Where the Wild Things Are by Maurice Sendak and going on what felt like a real journey with Max. As I turned the pages, I was in the boat with Max—sailing to an island inhabited by monsters.
I also couldn’t get enough of The King Who Rained by Fred Gwynne. The picture of a coat of arms (as in an actual coat made out of human arms) will forever be etched in my mind. And I’ll always giggle when I think of an actual mole (as in the animal) on the dad’s nose. This book turned me on to the fun nuances of language—and maybe even played a role in choosing writing as a career.
Whether I was reading The King Who Rained, The Giving Tree, or any other classic kids’ books, when I was reading the story—I was in the story.
Reading classic children’s literature every day truly has the power to bring books to life and help children understand language, digest complex thematic elements, and—best of all—develop a lifelong love of reading.
Here are some of the classic book recommendations for younger children that you will want to add to your next library run or to your Amazon wish list.
A quick reference book list of the best picture books for early readers:
- Miss Nelson is Missing! by Harry Allard
- Cloudy with a Chance of Meatballs by Judi Barrett
- The Mitten by Jan Brett
- Goodnight Moon by Margaret Wise Brown
- Strega Nona by Tomie dePaola
- The Very Hungry Caterpillar by Eric Carle
- Petunia by Roger Duvoisin
- Stone Soup By Marcia Brown
- The Pout-Pout Fish by Deborah Diesen
- Click, Clack, Moo: Cows That Type by Doreen Cronin
- Corduroy by Don Freeman
- Curious George by H.A. Rey
- The Cat in the Hat by Dr. Seuss
- The Snowy Day by Ezra Jack Keats
- Where's Spot? by Eric Hill
- The Giving Tree by Shel Silverstein
- The Very Busy Spider by Eric Carl
- The Tale of Peter Rabbit by Beatrix Potter
- The Little Prince by Antoine de Saint-Exupéry
- The Velveteen Rabbit by Margery Williams
- The Tale of Squirrel Nutkin by Beatrix Potter
- The Little Engine That Could by Watty Piper
- The Story of Babar by Jean de Brunhoff
- Caps for Sale by Esphyr Slobodkina
- The Tale of the Ugly Duckling by Hans Christian Andersen
- The Tale of the Clever Little Mouse by Wilhelm Grimm
- The Tale of the Gingerbread Man by James Orchard Halliwell
- The Tale of the Three Bears by Robert Southey
- The Tale of the Three Little Pigs by Joseph Jacobs
- The Tale of the Three Billy Goats Gruff by Peter Christen Asbjørnsen
- Green Eggs and Ham by Dr. Seuss
- Alexander and the Terrible, Horrible, No Good, Very Bad Day" by Judith Viorst
- Guess How Much I Love You by Sam McBratney
- The Story of the Treasure Seekers by E. Nesbit
- The Railway Children by E. Nesbit
A quick summary of the 10 classic picture book recommendations for children
None of the books on this list are new books, but if you read book reviews or ask any librarian, you’ll realize these are some of the most popular children’s books. These books will engage young readers and dreamers and are perfect to fit in your bookshelf at home between other favorites.
1. Miss Nelson is Missing! by Harry Allard
Every child has had a teacher that is so nice—their own Miss Honey, if you will. And every child has taken their turn being naughty and not listening to their favorite teacher.
In this story, that teacher is Miss Nelson—who never yells and goes easy on the kids. But one day, she goes missing—and someone else shows up instead. Who? You’ll have to get the book to find out.
2. Cloudy with a Chance of Meatballs by Judi Barrett
Your children may have already seen the movie with this same title. It’s adorable and a bundle of fun. But have they read the book that it's based on?
As you know, the book is always better than the movie—and Cloudy with a Chance of Meatballs is no exception.
Check out this book, which is one of the best children’s books to learn more about the town of Chewandswallow and its unusual weather patterns.
3. The Mitten by Jan Brett
The Mitten makes the list of these great books because of how fun it is. It makes sense that woodland animals would find a hole and crawl in to discover. But it doesn’t make sense that these animals would find a mitten and crawl in, one by one. Yet that’s what happens in this classic children’s book by Jan Brett.
The last two to crawl in the mitten are a big brown bear and a tiny brown mouse. Can you imagine what might happen next? It’s pretty funny.
4. Goodnight Moon by Margaret Wise Brown
Maybe you’ve already experienced your kids saying goodnight to every possible thing before they are willing to drift off to sleep.
This board book is not only a must-read and one of the best books for children, but it’s one you should have on your bookshelf at home. It’s always a toddler favorite, and your kids will be asking to read it “just one more time.”
5. Strega Nona by Tomie dePaola
This story takes young readers to Calabria in Southern Italy, where Strega Nona is the village’s witch doctor.
In the book, Strega Nona employs Big Anthony and gives him one rule—don’t touch the magic pasta pot. Do you think he touches it? Do you think there will be a disaster? You’ll never guess what happens and be surprised to find out whether he committed a crime and what his punishment might be.
6. The Very Hungry Caterpillar by Eric Carle
The Very Hungry Caterpillar is only one in a series of incredible books by Eric Carle and it’s one of my personal favorite books. This book is one of the most well-known in his collection, and it's for good reason.
The story is fun, and the illustrations are beautiful. If you’re looking for a classic children’s book recommendation, then start by following this caterpillar as it eats its way into a literal cocoon.
7. Petunia by Roger Duvoisin
If you own a book, you must be wise, right? Well, that’s what Petunia, the silly goose in the story, thinks.
Petunia uses her new-found “knowledge” to give misguided advice to other animals around her. This classic is a fun one to add to your library list.
8. Stone Soup By Marcia Brown
An old French tale has made its way into popular American children’s literature. This book was first published in 1947 and has remained a classic throughout the years.
The story is about three hungry soldiers who outwit villagers and trick them into giving them a feast. If you haven’t read this book (or haven’t read it since 1947), it’s time to check it out again.
9. The Pout-Pout Fish by Deborah Diesen
The Pout-Pout Fish is one of the newer books on the list, but it doesn’t mean it’s any less of a classic.
In The Pout-Pout Fish, Mr. Fish spends his days with a permanent frown on his face, and it doesn't seem like he thinks he has much to smile about. Even his best friends try to cheer him up but to no avail. One day, things change and Mr. Fish meets a new friend. Mr. Fish discovers he doesn’t have to pout all of the time.
10. Click, Clack, Moo: Cows That Type by Doreen Cronin
There are a lot of sounds that Farmer Brown could hear coming from a barn, but typing? The click and clack of a keyboard in a barn don’t seem to make sense—especially when there are only animals in the barn.
But these cows are smart. They’ve found an old typewriter and are making written requests for things from Farmer Brown. You’ll want to dive into this book with your children to find out what they are requesting and how Farmer Brown handles the situation.
11. Corduroy by Don Freeman
In this book, a small teddy bear named Corduroy goes on a journey through a department store in search of a new home. Does he find one? What do you think?
12. Curious George by H.A. Rey
This book follows the adventures of a curious little monkey named George, who gets into all sorts of mischief while exploring the world around him.
The best part? If your young ones like this book, they’ll like the rest of the series.
13. The Cat in the Hat by Dr. Seuss
In this classic book, a mischievous cat visits two children on a rainy day and helps them have all sorts of fun, despite their mother's instructions to stay inside and be quiet.
You may have seen the movie. But don’t forget to read the book.
14. The Snowy Day by Ezra Jack Keats
This is a classic children's picture book that follows the adventures of a young boy named Peter as he explores the world around him on a snowy day. The book showcases the beauty and wonder of the natural world, as Peter makes his way through the snow-covered streets and discovers the joy of making footprints, building snowmen, and having snowball fights.
The book is known for its vivid and colorful illustrations, which capture the wonder and excitement of Peter's adventure.
15. Where's Spot? by Eric Hill
This picture book that follows the adventures of a young puppy named Spot as he goes on a series of fun and exciting outings with his friends and family.
The book is known for its simple, engaging storyline and interactive format, encouraging young readers to lift the flaps on each page to find Spot and his friends. The book is a great way to introduce young children to the concept of object permanence and to help them develop their fine motor skills.
16. The Giving Tree by Shel Silverstein
This picture book tells the story of a young boy and a tree that loves him. The tree provides the boy with everything he needs, from leaves to climb on and branches to play with to apples to eat and shade to protect him from the sun.
As the boy grows older and his needs change, the tree continues to give, even when it means sacrificing its own branches and trunk. The book is a touching and thought-provoking story about the meaning of love and the importance of giving.
17. The Very Busy Spider by Eric Carl
This children's picture book tells the story of a busy little spider who spends her days spinning webs and catching flies. The book is known for its vibrant and colorful illustrations, which showcase the spider's busy day as she works hard to build her web.
The book is a great way to introduce young children to the concept of hard work and the importance of perseverance.
18. The Tale of Peter Rabbit by Beatrix Potter
This story is about a mischievous rabbit named Peter who goes on a series of adventures in Mr. McGregor's garden. Despite his mother's warnings, Peter goes into the garden to pick some delicious vegetables, but he soon finds himself being chased by the angry Mr. McGregor.
The book is a great way to introduce young children to the concepts of disobedience and the importance of following rules.
19. The Little Prince by Antoine de Saint-Exupéry
This book tells the story of a young prince who lives on a small asteroid and goes on a journey to explore the universe.
Along the way, he meets a variety of interesting characters and learns important lessons about love, friendship, and the meaning of life.
20. The Velveteen Rabbit by Margery Williams
This book tells the story of a stuffed rabbit who longs to become real through the love of his owner. It's a classic that everyone in the family can enjoy.
The book explores the power of love and the importance of friendship. If you're diving deep into this topic, don't miss The Velveteen Rabbit.
21. The Tale of Squirrel Nutkin by Beatrix Potter
Who doesn't love a good Beatrix Potter book? This book is one of the best in the Potter collection and tells the story of a mischievous squirrel named Nutkin who goes on an adventure to collect nuts from an old owl's island.
The book is full of charming illustrations and delightful characters that everyone reading will fall in love with.
22. The Little Engine That Could by Watty Piper
Ever had a child who was worried about whether or not they could accomplish a big task?
This book tells the story of a small train engine who must overcome her own doubts and fears to help a stranded train full of toys reach its destination.
The book is a classic tale of perseverance and determination, and will help your little one face their fears.
23. The Story of Babar by Jean de Brunhoff
The books follow the adventures of a young elephant named Babar who leaves the jungle and goes to live in the city. Along the way, he learns about the human world and eventually becomes the King of the Elephants.
Babar is known for his kindness, wisdom, and good judgment, and the stories teach lessons about friendship, family, and the importance of helping others.
24. Caps for Sale by Esphyr Slobodkina
The story follows a peddler who has a cart full of colorful caps that he sells from town to town. One day, while the peddler is taking a nap, a group of mischievous monkeys steal his caps and start wearing them.
The peddler must use his wits to outsmart the monkeys and get his caps back. The book teaches lessons about persistence, determination, and the importance of not giving up.
25. The Tale of the Ugly Duckling by Hans Christian Andersen
The story follows an ugly duckling who is rejected by his family and the other animals because of his appearance. Despite this, the duckling persists and eventually grows into a beautiful swan.
The story teaches children that they should not be judged by their appearance and that they should have confidence in themselves. It also encourages children to be kind to others and to not judge people based on their looks.
26. The Tale of the Clever Little Mouse by Wilhelm Grimm
This book tells the story of a clever little mouse who outwits a group of hungry animals to save her family from being eaten.
The book is full of exciting twists and turns, and is a great way to introduce young children to the concepts of cleverness and resourcefulness.
27. The Tale of the Gingerbread Man by James Orchard Halliwell
This book tells the story of a gingerbread man who comes to life and goes on a series of adventures, evading capture by a variety of hungry animals.
The book is a fun and entertaining tale that is sure to delight young readers. It's also the perfect book to read during the holidays with the family. (Librarian tip: For holiday reading fun, consider wrapping 25 books and opening each book before the holiday).
28. The Tale of the Three Bears by Robert Southey
he Tale of the Three Bears is a children's book written by Robert Southey. The story follows a little girl named Goldilocks who comes across a house in the woods belonging to three bears: a papa bear, a mama bear, and a baby bear. Goldilocks goes into the house and tries out the bears' chairs, beds, and porridge, eventually falling asleep in the baby bear's bed.
When the bears come home and discover what has happened, they are angry but ultimately forgive Goldilocks. The story teaches children about manners, respect, and the importance of apologizing for their mistakes.
29. The Tale of the Three Little Pigs by Joseph Jacobs
The Tale of the Three Little Pigs is a children's book written by Joseph Jacobs. The story follows three little pigs who are sent out into the world by their mother to build their own homes. The first two pigs build houses made of straw and sticks, respectively, but both of these homes are blown down by the big bad wolf.
The third pig, however, builds his house out of bricks and it is able to withstand the wolf's huffing and puffing. The story teaches children about the importance of hard work and preparation, as well as the consequences of taking shortcuts. It also encourages children to be resourceful and to use their intelligence to solve problems.
30. The Tale of the Three Billy Goats Gruff by Peter Christen Asbjørnsen
The Tale of the Three Billy Goats Gruff is a children's book written by Peter Christen Asbjørnsen. The story follows three billy goats who must cross a bridge to get to a lush field on the other side. However, the bridge is guarded by a mean and greedy troll who threatens to eat the goats if they try to cross. The goats come up with a plan to trick the troll and eventually outsmart him, allowing them to safely cross the bridge and reach their destination.
The story teaches children about the importance of teamwork and cooperation, as well as the value of using their wits to overcome challenges. It also encourages children to be brave and not to be afraid of standing up to bullies.
31. Green Eggs and Ham by Dr. Seuss
This classic children's picture book is about Sam who is trying to convince another character named the "I am" to try a dish of green eggs and ham. Throughout the story, Sam insists that the "I am" will like the dish, no matter where it is eaten or with whom it is eaten. In the end, the "I am" finally tries the green eggs and ham and discovers that he actually likes them.
The book is known for its catchy and rhythmic language, which makes it a joy to read aloud. It is a great way to introduce young children to the concepts of trying new things and not judging a book by its cover.
32. Alexander and the Terrible, Horrible, No Good, Very Bad Day" by Judith Viorst
This book tells the story of a young boy named Alexander who has a really bad day. Everything seems to go wrong for Alexander, from getting gum in his hair to getting a cavity at the dentist.
Despite his many misfortunes, Alexander learns to cope with his bad day and ultimately finds a way to make things better. The book is a great way to help young children understand and cope with the ups and downs of life.
33. Guess How Much I Love You by Sam McBratney
This classic children's picture book tells the story of two rabbits, Little Nutbrown Hare and Big Nutbrown Hare, who compete to see who loves the other more. The book is known for its heartwarming and tender storyline, which explores the depth and strength of a parent's love for their child.
The book is a great way to introduce young children to the concept of love and to help them understand the importance of expressing their feelings.
34. The Story of the Treasure Seekers by E. Nesbit
The Story of the Treasure Seekers is a children's book written by E. Nesbit. The story follows the adventures of a group of siblings who go on a quest to find a treasure in order to help their family.
The children go on various adventures and have many exciting experiences as they search for the treasure. In the end, they are successful in finding the treasure and are able to help their family.
The story teaches children about the value of hard work and perseverance, as well as the importance of helping others. It also encourages children to use their imagination and to be creative in their problem-solving.
35. The Railway Children by E. Nesbit
The Railway Children is a children's book written by E. Nesbit. The story follows a family who moves to the countryside and becomes involved in a mystery involving a local train. The children discover that a man named Mr. John is being held prisoner in the tunnels under the train station and they work together to try to help him.
The story teaches children about the importance of standing up for what is right, as well as the value of friendship and family. It also encourages children to be curious and to use their intelligence to solve problems.
Looking for more children’s book recommendations?
The ten books listed above are some of our favorite classic children’s books to recommend. But there are libraries full of books that will engage your children and turn them into lifelong readers.
One of the best things you can do to get your children interested in reading is to take them to the library and let them choose whatever books interest them. If they like dragons, let them pick out books about dragons. Princesses? There are plenty of books about princesses. Graphic novels? Pick out a new graphic novel they can read every day. Poetry rhyming books? It doesn’t matter what your kids read. It only matters that they do read. It even helps if they listen to audiobooks.
Remember, one of the best ways to encourage your children to start reading—and to keep them reading—is to get them a RIK.
RIK is designed for early readers and starts them on chapter books. New readers start with short stories and books that are fun to read aloud and an accompanying RIK. The program grows with your child until they are a sixth grader or seventh grader. As your kids grow, they will continue to get age-appropriate books and fun RIKs.